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The Constitution provides for every accidental contingency in the executive – except a vacancy in the mind of the president… Senator John Sherman (1823-1900)

Klemment001An unusual, three-part wood engraving attributing John Wilkes Booth’s assassination of Abraham Lincoln to the influence of the proslavery secret society, the Knights of the Golden Circle. Lincoln was shot by Booth on April 14, 1865, while attending Ford’s Theatre in Washington. In the first panel (left) is a three-quarter length portrait of George W. L. Bickley, the “Head of the Knights of the Golden Circle.” Above him is the word “Theory.” The central panel–“Practice”–shows John Wilkes Booth in profile holding a dagger behind his back. The “Effect” is the death of President Lincoln, whose profile portrait at right is framed by swags of black drapery. Beneath the portrait are Lincoln’s initials and olive branches.

Almost every president since Washington has tried to equate disagreement with them with treason. Prior to the advent of the 20th century none was more strident in their efforts than Lincoln. Suspending habeas corpus and ignoring the courts on a daily basis there was even a warrant issued for the congressman who was the Democrats candidate for a cabinet post in 1864 [at the time the presidential ticket included not only the presidential and vice presidential nominees but also appointees for essential cabinet posts]. Prior to the Woodrow Wilson / Mitchell Palmer tag team assault on constitutional rights Lincoln’s was the most complete suppression of dissent in American history so it is little wonder that that his historians should have portrayed his detractors in the most venomous terms possible. Klement has performed a valuable service in helping to set the record straight and we have chosen to illustrate this entry starting with a caricature that shows the problem and a few that dared speak the truth about a man that Harper’s Magazine characterized as a filthy storyteller, despot, liar, thief, braggart, buffoon, usurper, monster, ignoramus Abe, old scoundrel, perjurer, swindler, tyrant, field butcher, land pirate – [but still the greatest president Illinois has produced].

Klemment002An impassioned attack on Abraham Lincoln and the human toll of the Union war effort. Columbia, wearing a liberty cap and a skirt made of an American flag, demands, “Mr. Lincoln, give me back my 500,000 sons!!!” At the right, Lincoln, unfazed, sits at a writing desk, his leg thrown over the chair back. A proclamation calling for “500 Thous. More Troops,” signed by him, lies at his feet. He replies, “Well the fact is–by the way that reminds me of a Story!!!” The artist refers to the false report published by the “New York World” that Lincoln joked on the battlefield of Antietam.

Dark lanterns : secret political societies, conspiracies, and treason trials in the Civil War Frank L. Klement Baton Rouge : Louisiana State University Press, c 1984 Softcover. xiii, 263 p. : ill. ; 24 cm. Bibliography: p. 245-253. Includes index. Clean, tight and strong binding. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG

Klemment003Lincoln’s support of abolition is portrayed here as a liability in his race to the White House against Democratic candidate George B. McClellan. At top a smoothly run train “Union” heads straight for the White House. The engine is labeled “Democracy” and the first car, in which McClellan stands in the role of engineer, flies a flag “Constitution.” The other cars are labeled “Union” and are occupied by happy, cheering Democrats. McClellan taunts, “Wouldn’t you like to swap horses now? Lincoln?” (probably a reference to Lincoln’s replacement of him as commander of the Army of the Potomac). Several of his passengers comment on the wreck of the Republican train below: “H-ll, H ll, I’m used to Railroad accidents but that beats Vibbards all to smash.” New York governor Horatio Seymour: “I thought little Mac could take the train through better than I could.” “It’s no use talking Ben [Union general Benjamin F. Butler]! I told you I was on the right train . . . thunder there’s John McKeon [prominent Democrat and New York lawyer ] with us.” “Little Mac is the boy to smash up all the Misceganationists.” “Politics does make strange bed fellows . . . the d . . . l if there aint Fernandy!” “Fernandy” is Fernando Wood, prominent Peace Democrat and mayor of New York. “Good-bye Horace [Horace Greeley]! Nigger on the brain flummoxed you.” “Thus ends the Abolition Party!” “Be the powers the gintleman with his pantaloons in his bootleg is having a high time of it.” “Good-bye old Greenbacks!” to Salmon P. Chase, who leaves with a satchel at right. Chase, who resigned his post as secretary of the treasury on June 29, says, “Thank God, I got off that train in the nick of time.” In contrast, Lincoln’s train, below, is far behind after having crashed on rocks “Confiscation,” “Emancipation,” “$400,000,000,000 Public Debt,” “To Whom It May Concern,” and “Abolitionism.” Lincoln himself is hurled into the air, and says, “Dont mention it Mac, this reminds me of a . . .” This reference is to Lincoln’s rumored penchant for telling humorous stories at inappropriate moments. (See “The Commander-in-Chief Conciliating the Soldier’s Votes,” no. 1864-30.) “Tribune” publisher and abolitionist Horace Greeley, also in the air, says, “I told you Abe that ‘To whom it may concern’ would be the death of us.” (See “The Sportsman Upset by the Recoil of His Own Gun,” no. 1864-31.) A black man crushed in the wreck accuses Lincoln, “Wars de rest ob dis ole darkey? Dis wot yer call ‘mancipation’?” Another black man hurtles through the air, retorting, “Lor Amighty Massa Linkum, is dis wot yer call ‘Elewating de Nigger’?” Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, hanging out of the train, moans, “Oh! dear! If I could telegraph this to Dix I’d make it out a Victory.” Preacher and abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher holds a black child to his breast and prays, “Oh! my brethering! Plymouth Church will try to save the Platform.” The notorious Union general Ben Butler exclaims, “H–ll! I’ve Preyed $2,000,000 already!” The four clean-shaven men in the train are identifiable as Massachusetts senator Charles Sumner, New York journalist and state political leader Thurlow Weed, Secretary of State William Seward, and John McKeon. Sumner: “Say Seward will praying save us?” Seward: “Oh! I’m a goner! Ask Thurlow, he’s my spiritual Adviser.” Weed: “Pray! yes, pray Brother, Butler will lead.” At left Maximilian, puppet emperor of Mexico, confers with John Bull and Napoleon III of France, saying, “Oh Main Got’vi I vas send over to dis land of Greasers to pe chawed up py de Yankees.” John Bull’s opinion is “. . . This will never do. The Monroe doctrine must be put down.” Napoleon III says, “. . . by Gar, if dat train gets to de White House, its all up with my Mexico.” During the Civil War, Napoleon III tried to establish a puppet state in Mexico under Emperor Maximilian. At bottom left are prices and ordering instructions for obtaining copies of the print.

During the agonizing days of the Civil War four secret political societies, often known as dark lantern societies, became household words throughout the North. Three of these groups – the Knights of the Golden Circle, the Order of American Knights, and the Sons of Liberty – supposedly were umbrellas for antiwar Democrats and were reportedly involved in treasonable activities. The Union League, on the other hand, was a patriotic political organization intent upon buttressing northern morale and giving support to the war program of the Lincoln administration.

 

Klemment004A bitterly anti-Lincoln cartoon, based on newspaper reports of the President’s callous disregard of the misery of Union troops at the front. The story that Lincoln had joked on the field at Antietam appeared in the “New York World.” Holding a plaid Scotch cap Lincoln stands on the battlefield at Antietam, which is littered with Union dead and wounded. He instructs his friend Marshal Lamon, who stands with his back toward the viewer and his hand over his face, to “sing us P̀icayune Butler,’ or something else that’s funny.”

The accusations and counter accusations that passed between these opposing forces helped spread fantastic rumors about their power and influence. Treason trials held in Cincinnati and Indianapolis based convictions on hearsay, while the leaders of the Order of American Knights and the Knights of the Golden Circle spent much of the war in prison without benefit of trial. Today reputable reference sources still matter-of-factly credit these societies with large memberships and evil motives.

Klemment005Another attack on the Lincoln administration by the artist of “The Commander-in-Chief Conciliating the Soldier’s Votes, no. 1864-31,” and “The Sportsman Upset by the Recoil of His Own Gun,” (no. 1864-32). Here Lincoln and his cabinet are shown in a disorderly backstage set, preparing for a production of Shakespeare’s “Othello.” Lincoln (center) in blackface plays the title role. He recites, “O, that the slave had forty thousand lives! I am not valiant neither:–But why should honour outlive honesty? Let it go all.” Behind Lincoln two men, one with his leg over a chair, comment on Lincoln’s reading. “Not quite appropriately costumed, is he?” comments the first. The second replies, “Costumed, my dear Sir? Never was such enthusiasm for art:–Blacked himself all over to play the part, Sir!” These may be Republicans Charles Sumner and Thaddeus Stevens. Before them is a wastebasket of discarded documents, including the Constitution, Crittenden Compromise, Monroe Doctrine, “Webster’s Speeches,” “Decisions of Supreme Court,” and “Douglass.” At left five ballerinas stand beneath a playbill advertising “Treasury Department, A New Way to Pay Old Debts . . . Raising the Wind . . . Ballet Divertissement.” Near their feet is a pile of silver and plate, “Properties of the White House.” They listen to a fiddler who, with his back turned to the viewer, stands lecturing before them. At right Secretary of War Edwin Mcm.asters Stanton instructs a small troop of Union soldiers waiting in the wings to “. . . remember, you’re to go on in the procession in the first Act and afterwards in the Farce of the Election.” One soldier protests, “Now, see here, Boss that isn’t fair. We were engaged to do the leading business.” Nearby an obviously inebriated Secretary of State William Seward sits at a table with a bottle, muttering, “Sh–shomethin’s matt’r er my little bell: The darned thing won’t ring anyway c̀onfixit’.” Seward reportedly once boasted that he could have any individual arrested merely by ringing a bell. He was widely criticized for his arbitrary imprisonment of numerous civilians during the war. On the floor near Seward sits Lincoln’s running mate Andrew Johnson, a straw dummy, with a label around his ankle, “To be left till called for.” At far right Navy Secretary Gideon Welles slumbers, holding a paper marked “Naval Engagement, Sleeping Beauty, All’s Well That Ends Well.” In the background abolitionist editor Horace Greeley bumbles about moving scenery and complaining, “O bother! I can’t manage these cussed things.” Union general Benjamin F. Butler (directly behind Lincoln), dressed as Falstaff, recites, “We that take purses, go by the moon and seven stars; and not by Phoebus! I would to God, thou and I knew where a commodity of good names were to be bought!” He holds a sign “Benefit . . . Falstaff . . . Beauty and the Beast.” By this time Butler had achieved notoriety as a dissolute plunderer. To Butler’s right a man (who might be the stage manager) orders the crew, “Get ready to shift there ‘ere Flats for the Temple of Liberty.” The artist of this and nos. 1864-30 and -31 was an exceptionally able draftsman. Judging from the acidity of these satires, he may have been a Southerner, perhaps a Baltimorean.

In Dark Lanterns Klement refutes past historical theories and shows quite clearly that these societies were never much more than paper-based organizations with vague goals and little ability to carry them out. Recounting the actual histories of these organizations, he shows how they were senationalised, even fictionalized, in both Republican and Democratic newspaper and magazine exposés. He also probes the trials arising from the supposed conspiracy to establish a separate confederacy in the Midwest and the so-called Camp Douglas conspiracy, which was intended to release the Confederate prisoners housed there.

Klemment006Lincoln is portrayed as meek and ineffectual in his prosecution of the war. In a wooded scene Lincoln, here in the character of an Irish sportsman in knee-breeches, discharges his blunderbuss at a small bird “C.S.A.” (Confederate States of America). The bird, perched in a tree at left, is unhurt, but Lincoln falls backward vowing, “Begorra, if ye wor at this end o’ th’ gun, ye wouldn’t flap yer wings that way, ye vill’in!” At right Secretary of War Stanton, who has the body of a dog, barks, “Bow-wow.” Lincoln’s rifle is labeled “To Whom It May Concern.” These were the opening words of an announcement written by Lincoln in the summer of 1864. Journalist Horace Greeley had discovered that two emissaries of president of the Confederacy Jefferson Davis were in Canada, and urged Lincoln to make an offer of peace. Lincoln sent Greeley to Canada, where he found that the diplomats had neither credentials nor authority. Lincoln afterward announced that “Any proposition which embraces the restoration of peace, the integrity of the whole Union, and the abandonment of slavery . . . will be received and considered by the Executive government of the United States.”

Despite the furor they generated, Klement concludes that these dark lantern societies were essentially engaged in nothing more than a war of words and that their alleged power was greatly exaggerated by political propaganda. Meticulously researched and lucidly argued, Dark Lanterns explores a controversial and puzzling aspect of the Civil war. It will be hard to dispute Klements’ finding that generations of historians have swallowed whole a tale that was largely the product of myth and legend.

Klemment007The artist portrays a President tormented by nightmares of defeat in the election of 1864. The print probably appeared late in the campaign. (The Library’s copy was deposited for copyright on September 22.) Lincoln was said to have believed in the prophetic importance of dreams. The President lies on a bed under a sheet embroidered with stars. In his dream Columbia or Liberty, wielding the severed head of a black man, stands at the door of the White House. She sends a frightened Lincoln away with a kick. Lincoln, wearing a Scotsman’s plaid cap and a cape and carrying a valise, flees to the left, saying, “This don’t remind me of any joke!!” The cap and cloak allude to an incident in 1861 before Lincoln’s first inauguration. On being informed that an attempt would be made to assassinate him on his way to Washington, Lincoln took a night train and disguised himself in a large overcoat and Kossuth hat. The press made the most of Lincoln’s timidity, and it was widely reported that Lincoln was seen wearing a Scotch plaid cap and a very long military cloak. Lincoln also carries a rolled piece of paper “To whom it may concern.” For this famous announcement, see “The Sportsman Upset by the Recoil of His Own Gun,” no. 1864-32. At right General McClellan, in uniform, ascends the steps to the White House, carrying a valise with his initials on it.

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